Dawn Temple

Moonlight and Mistletoe

© 2009

About the Author

DAWN TEMPLE was born in Louisiana and, despite having now lived more than half her life in Texas, in her heart, she still considers the Bayou State home. Everything about the South appeals to her: lazy days, nosy neighbors, old buildings and ancient trees. But the best thing is the people. In fact, her favorite part of writing is trying to honestly and emotionally capture that warm Southern spirit on the page. She loves to hear readers say they really connected with one of her characters-especially among the eclectic cast she uses to populate the background. Look closely. With any luck, you might recognize a few characters from your own life.

Dawn lives in the Texas Gulf Coast region with her husband, twin sons and three neurotic dogs. Stop by for a bit of Southern hospitality at www.dawntemple.com where friends are always welcome.

Writing a book is like raising a child, and this baby has been blessed by many mothers. Thanks and hugs go to:

– My own Thomas, Peake and Moore. You ladies helped conceive this story’s bare bones, and I hope you’ll be proud of how she’s grown.

– Terri Richison, aka the Bionic Critiquer. You helped add life and love-not to mention blood, sweat and tears (literally). Friendship and support, above and beyond, on page and off. You rock!

– Susan Litman, my generous, patient and awesome editor. You provided the structure and guidance every awkward girl needs to grow into a beautiful woman.

Thanks for never giving up on me or this story.

Chapter One

Shayna Miller gritted her teeth as she grabbed a handful of threadbare red wool and yanked at the hem of her borrowed Ms. Noel costume.

Good news-she managed to cover a bit more leg.

Bad news-her boobs nearly popped out.

Fearful any more tugging would shred the ancient fabric, she let the dress be and faced the mirror, frowning at the pregnant blonde reflected behind her. “This is going to be the first X-rated parade in the history of the Noel Festival.”

“The dress isn’t that tight.” Lindy Monroe insisted. “Now, quit trying to change the subject. Tell me about Los Angeles.”

Shayna had avoided her best friend-and this very conversation-since she returned to Land’s Cross two days ago. Judging by the stubborn tilt of Lindy’s chin, she wasn’t going to let the matter drop until Shayna spilled the beans about the reunion with her birth mother, Patty Hoyt.

“It was horrible,” she admitted sadly. “A huge waste of time and money.”

“Her letter said she wanted to make amends.” Lindy patted the bedspread near her hip. “So what went wrong?”

A resigned sigh shuddered through Shayna as she sat. The frightened little girl still huddled in her heart had naively hoped for a loving reunion, for answers to years’ worth of unanswered questions. So much for childish wishes.

“Patty’s still hustling the next big score. She only invited me to L.A. to talk me into helping with her current scheme.”

“Which is…?” Lindy prompted.

“Seems my biological father is a big-shot psychologist who’s been offered a ton of money to star in his own talk show.”

“Wow. What’s his name?”

“Steven Walker.” Just saying his name made Shayna feel sick to her stomach.

“Ohhh. I’ve heard of him. He’s done guest spots on nearly every daytime talk show.”

“Yep. Turns out they had an affair while he was married, but he dropped her when she got pregnant with me. She said he paid her a bundle to keep quiet, but now she plans on scoring big.”

“Why now?”

“She figures he’ll pay anything to avoid tarnishing his reputation before the TV deal is officially signed.”

“What a witch.”

“That’s not the worst of it.” As it had when Patty first outlined her ridiculous plan, Shayna’s anger began to spike. Her fingers trembled slightly as she unwound the band from her waist-length braid and began unknotting her hair.

“She wants me to go to some Who’s Your Daddy clinic and have a DNA test so she’ll have hard evidence and can get even more money out of him.”

Lindy laid a gentle hand on Shayna’s knee. “Don’t take this the wrong way, sweetie, but will people really care that he fathered a child out of wedlock twenty-five years ago?”

“I asked the same thing. Apparently, Dr. Walker’s claim to fame, and the premise of his show, is family therapy, with an emphasis on old-fashioned, wholesome values. Ironic, huh?”

“Ouch.” Lindy winced sympathetically.

Rehashing the encounter was making Shayna as antsy as a turkey in November. Her attempt to reconnect with her past had failed. All she wanted now was to keep moving forward.

Restless, she surged to her feet, but the costume’s skirt remained bunched around her hips. Good Lord-the wavy mass of brown hair spilling over her shoulders covered more skin than this miserable dress! She skimmed her hands over her hips, but the snug material didn’t budge.

“We’ve got to do something about this outfit before the festival starts.”

Lindy, bless her understanding heart, ran with the defensive subject change this time. “Definitely. I can’t believe old Mrs. Brinker ran it through the dryer. As petite as you are, I had hoped it might still fit.”

“Petite?” Relieved to be discussing anything other than the soap opera Patty had wanted to make of her life, Shayna snickered. “That’s just a fancy word for short as a stump.” In her bare feet, she topped out at a whopping five-two. A very full-figured five-two.

“Imagine how that dress would fit if you were any taller.”

“If I were any taller, it’d be little more than a belt, and the vice squad would raid the parade for sure.”

“Nothing illegal about showing a little skin.”

“A little skin? I look like a stripper from the North Pole.”

“Yeah, but think about the fundraising possibilities. Thousands of dollars-singles, fives and twenties-tucked into your skimpy costume, one bill at a time. It would be the festival’s most profitable year ever.”

Lindy’s ridiculous suggestion cracked Shayna up. Within seconds, they were both giggling like schoolgirls. The happy sound helped to chase away the cloud that had hung over her since her return from California.

For the first time since telling Patty to take a hike, Shayna began to relax. She’d always cherished her calm, uncomplicated life. For the past week, she’d worried her mother’s vile drama would destroy her hard-won happiness, but that wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t allow it.

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